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Political issues hit in West Bengal civic polls
Published on 23 May. 2010 11:14 PM IST
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Political issues and not civic problems of immediate concern to the common man are taking centrestage in the upcoming West Bengal municipal polls, considered the last trial of strength for the contesting parties ahead of the assembly election showdown next year.
The May 30 polls for control of 80 municipalities and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation are being fought just like a general election with issues like early assembly election, political violence, conspiracy theories for fomenting communal trouble, functioning of the railway ministry and Maoist activities dominating the speeches and statements of the leaders.
Drowned in the political cacophony are the civic issues - water supply, roads, sanitation, maintenance of parks and pollution that are of critical concern to the average citizen. Perhaps the only civic matter that is hogging the limelight is water tax, but that too for political reasons. The main opposition Trinamool Congress is tearing into the 33-year old Left Front government for its advocacy of water tax and inability to impress upon the centre the need to not make the tax mandatory. The communists, on their part, are asking people to call the Trinamool bluff.
“Unless we impose water tax, we won’t get developments funds from the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). How do we build our bridges, flyovers or carry out mega development projects?” asked state Municipal Affairs Minister Ashok Bhattacharya.
The elections are being held a year after the Lok Sabha polls that saw the Trinamool Congress-Congress-Socialist Unity Centre of India combine decimate the Left Front which had looked almost invincible since coming to power way back in 1977.
But the political equations have substantially changed this time around.
A striking feature is the failure of the Trinamool and the Congress to clinch a seat sharing deal. Both parties are now going it alone in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and almost all the municipalities spread across the state.
The key question is whether the break-up of the alliance will in turn help the Left Front, which is looking up to the municipal polls to make a turnaround in its fortunes after its disastrous performance in the Lok Sabha elections. The Trinamool Congress and Congress combine bagged 27 Lok Sabha seats out of 42 seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The Left Front was reduced from 35 seats in 2004 to 15 seats and also got 43.3 percent of the votes, 7.5 percent less than it bagged five years ago.
However, political analyst Sabyasachi Basu Roy Choudhury felt the Trinamool could gain.
“I don’t feel the Left Front will benefit a lot. But there is a chance that the Trinamool in turn might benefit more from this break up as most of the anti Left votes might go to it,” Basu Roy Choudhury, a well-known political science professor, told IANS.
The Trinamool, naturally, agreed with Basu Roy Chowdhury.
“It is a grand alliance of the people. If a particular party walks out of the alliance does it mean that the grand alliance of the people is broken? The people who have walked out will end up with a disastrous performance,” asked Trinamool leader of the opposition in the state assembly Partha Chattopadhyay.
State Congress working president Pradip Bhattacharya denied that his party had broken the alliance. “I have said it repeatedly that Congress has not broken the alliance,” Bhattacharya told IANS.
CPI-M central committee member Shyamal Chakraborty spoke of an unofficial alliance between the two opposition parties.
“In most of the civic bodies there has been an unofficial alliance between the Trinamool and Congress,” Chakraborty said.
Basu Roy Chowdhury regretted that civic issues have taken a backseat in the poll campaign.
“Civic elections are to be fought on the issues water supply, roads, garbage dumping system, parks and etc. But political issues have overshadowed everything else.”
Trinamool Congress leader Chattopadhyay felt in the state’s present scenario, political issues were important even in a civic poll,
“Both political and development issues are being given priority. But if we look at the 34-year of misrule of CPI-M then political issues ought to take centre stage. Civic issues cannot be addressed without brining up political issues,” he said.
The CPI-M put the blame on the Trinamool. “We believe that civic polls should be fought on the basis of civic issues only, but Trinamool Congress is putting up political issues such as article 356, communal violence and early assembly polls,” Salim said.
Among the 81 civic bodies, the Left Front currently controls 54.

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